Ann Arbor, Obama presses for higher minimum wage
At Zingerman’s Deli, the president had a Reuben sandwich
By NEDRA PICKLER, Associated Press
ANN ARBOR, April 2, 2014 (AP): Pressing his economic case in an
election year, President Barack Obama came to Michigan on
Wednesday to praise the state's ongoing effort to raise the
minimum wage—and to accuse Republicans who oppose that step in
Michigan and in Congress of standing in the way of prosperity
for millions of US-Americans.
An upbeat Obama struck a distinctly partisan tone at the
University of Michigan, a day after his administration
received an unexpected burst of good news when his health care
law beat expectations for its first year of enrollment.
Addressing a crowd of about 1,400 in a stadium crowd that
included many students, Obama cracked jokes about his GOP foes
as he touted his plan to raise federal wages to $10.10 per hour.
``You've got a choice. You can give America the shaft, or you
can give it a raise,'' Obama said.
At Obama's side for his three-hour visit to this Midwest
battleground state was Rep. Gary Peters, a Senate
candidate embracing the chance to appear with the president
before voters this year. Some other Democrats have shied away
from Obama amid controversy over his health care plan, but
Peters opted to appear with Obama as the president echoed his
State of the Union affirmation that no American working full
time should live in poverty.
``It would lift millions of people out of poverty right away,''
the president said of his proposal. ``It would help millions
more work their way out of poverty right away.''
Michigan also has an effort to put a measure on the November
ballot to increase the state minimum wage $7.40 to $10.10 an
hour, an initiative that polling shows is popular among voters
who have been hit hard by the economic downturn in recent years.
Nationally, Obama wants to increase the hourly minimum wage from
$7.25 to $10.10 as part of an election-year economic agenda
focused on working families. The White House says that would
benefit more than 970,000 workers in Michigan.
The Senate could vote on a bill to raise the minimum wage to
$10.10 as early as next week. The Senate's second-ranking
Democrat, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, said Wednesday that if
Republicans block Democrats' efforts he would be open to
negotiating a compromise.
One potential compromise could involve moderate GOP Sen. Susan
Collins. The Maine lawmaker, who is facing re-election this
year, said she's talked to senators of both parties about a
smaller minimum wage increase plus renewing tax breaks for small
businesses that buy new equipment or hire veterans. She declined
to provide details and said her plan could change.
``What we know for certain is $10.10 isn't going to get through
the Senate, much less the House,'' she said, referring to the
GOP-run chamber. House leaders have expressed opposition to that
proposal. She said the choice was between trying to craft a bill
that might pass, ``or do some members simply want one vote and a
On their way to the campus, Obama and Peters stopped at
Zingerman's Deli, an Ann Arbor landmark, where they ordered
Reuben sandwiches and were served by a Michigan graduate who
makes $9 an hour—a rate above the current federal minimum wage.
``That's worth celebrating,'' Obama said.
Peters could benefit from the publicity that a presidential
visit brings, since he has not been elected statewide and polls
show many voters are unfamiliar with him. Asked whether he was
concerned about absorbing backlash from Obama's unpopular health
care law, Peters stressed the president's economic message.
``I'm happy to be with the president. I work with the president
on issues that are important to middle class families here in
Michigan and families who aspire to be in the middle class,''
Peters said as Obama prepared to take the stage.
Michigan voted for Obama in both his presidential campaigns and
his bailout of the auto industry has been popular here. Still,
appearing with Obama is not without risk.
An EPIC/MRA poll of voters in the state taken in February showed
61 percent of respondents have a negative view of Obama's job
performance, verses 37 percent positive. The same poll found
Peters and his Republican component separated by just a few
points in a competitive race.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer, who
supports a higher minimum wage and is challenging incumbent
Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, also planned to meet with
Obama while he was in Michigan, his campaign said.
Obama also traveled Wednesday to his hometown of Chicago for two
evening fundraisers benefiting the Democratic National
Committee. The first is a private roundtable discussion being
attended by about 25 supporters who contributed up to $32,400.
The second, at the Lincoln Park home of Obama donors Grace
Tsao-Wu and Craig Freedman, is a dinner reception
with about 55 supporters contributing up to $10,000 apiece.
Associated Press writers Alan Fram and Josh Lederman in
Washington contributed to this report.